In our last post I talked about the importance of processing the COVID-19 experience with students and opportunity that may be present in the midst of this obvious challenge. In this post we are going to explore a few things related to facilitating activities in the age of COVID-19 and what we have learned from a few programs we have run in person and what this may mean as we move forward.
In early September I worked with a team of facilitators to do a program for a local school in far Northeastern Wisconsin. The 7th grade program took place over the course of two days and did not include the typical overnight experience that the roughly 50 7th graders from this school typical take part in. The program took place on the school property (rather than at our camp location) which is a large, open outdoor area. Fall weather—even early fall—in the Northwoods of Wisconsin can be unpredictable, and we knew this going in, but felt doing some kind of program was important.
Originally we had planned to only do this program if the weather was decent. Because of a number of factors, the teachers decided we should go ahead with the program rain or shine and when rain was predicted we were told the students would be prepared. It is important to note that this is an Expeditionary Learning focused school and students have been out in inclement weather for activities many times in the past. As it turns out, most students were not prepared with decent rain gear or other cooler weather gear—or at least no more prepared than any other group of 7th graders I have worked with. We were lucky though. It was cool but dry on day 1. We did have light rain on Day 2 in the afternoon, but this admittedly had minimal impact on the program. It should be noted also that the facilitators did have a small pop up tent with a windbreak wall that was available. For most of the program though, it was only used for storage of facilitation gear and would not have been big enough for programming or shelter for the group.
Other important things:
- All students had masks available and we were told that students had been very good about using them in school and that if they were told to use them during an activity that most would comply. This proved to be the case.
- We followed school guidelines during this program and had provided the school staff with our own procedures and guidelines prior to the program to insure that we are all on the same page with regards to COVID-19 related practices. Contact us for more information on those specific policies and guidelines.
- We had prepared in advance (as prescribed in our policies and procedures) with regards to:
- Specific activities we felt could be run safely
- Specific set-up requirements for those activities
- A general schedule and outline that allowed for space usage, staff availability, distancing and flexibility
- Two large spray bottles with a bleach solution and a large container of hand sanitizer and additional spray bottle containing Isopropyl alcohol solution.
- The bleach was for facilitation equipment
- The hand sanitizer and alcohol was for participant’s hands
- Key facilitation gear that we knew would be passed from person to person (such as cards or similar items) were laminated or put in sealed plastic bags in preparation for post program sanitization.
The Program (Day 1):
We began with the program after lunch and started programming with a series of large group activities. Students social distanced as instructed and wore masks during parts of the activities where they in closer proximity (less than 6’) to each other. Things went very well with students complying easily and everyone seemed to be having fun and everything felt much like a normal program. We ended this segment in small groups (established “cohorts” that had been working groups—what the school called “crews”—since the beginning of the school year. This program segment used line-ups and other similar activities to introduce a key diversity concept the teachers wanted to address. It was also something we were going to be using the next day in our activity rotation. Everything went very well with students adhering well to mask and distancing policy. As mentioned, everything seemed like a normal program.
The Program (Day 2):
(It is important to note that one challenge we faced on Day 2 was that, because of a possible COVID-19 exposure) we were down one facilitator. Luckily the program flow for Day 2 was simple and we could easily move one of the teachers into one of the stations)
We began right away in the morning with some large group activities and some activities to reset lessons from Day 1. We then went into an activity we call “Skills Olympics.” In this situation, participants rotate through a series of stations doing short, simple activities that can be completed in 10 minutes to a half hour. They then have 15 minutes to score themselves on some key areas. In this case they gave themselves a score on: Their plan, Inclusion and involvement of all group members and creativity (scale of 1-5). The staff person at the station also gave a score of their own based on their observations of the 3 categories. Activities could include Card story creation (using a series of picture cards or these), Picture sequence/perspective activities like Zoom or re-Zoom, Bull ring/Crazy Crane or any number of similar activities (with extended control ropes to increase distancing), Moon ball, Tin can pass, Group Juggle (using kick balls instead of throwing balls, also with increased distancing), etc. We ended the day with a large group activity and students returned to their classroom to write letters to self. Our only challenge was rain, but students seemed really not to notice and rain was light enough that it didn’t affect programming much.
Things went well. As mentioned, for the most part this seemed like a normal program and students were resilient and complied easily with our protocols most of the time. If asked, students put on masks. They need to be reminded of this occasionally. There were obviously some activities we did not do but the list of things we wouldn’t have done at all was actually fairly short. Here were some key lessons:
- Running programs safely is possible. In fact, the situation and all of the necessary additional protocols and policy provide a metaphor of consideration for others and yourself. Use this as a springboard for further discussion. An article on processing the lessons of COVID-19 can be found
- The challenges of masks and distancing are not a barrier, especially if you are able to get outside, but teachers report that this is also the case inside. The school does have a mask policy in place and other protocols to limit interaction and group sizes in rooms.
- Students are resilient and adaptable. Masks, distancing, sanitizing and working with the slight inclement weather were things they seemed to take in stride. This may not be true for all students, but this was the case for our 7th graders
- Activities do need to be modified to some extent, however modifications are minimal and can be easily dealt with through a bit of additional pre-program preparation.
- Breaks to sanitize hands and gear were routine and not anything greatly outside of normal. Students lined up at every break in two lines and got alcohol or hand sanitizer (Note: Alcohol is cheaper than standard hand sanitizer, however some retailers are restricting sales of alcohol to one bottle per person. This is something to think about as you prep for your programs). Used gear was also quickly sprayed down with a mist from the bleach solutions spray bottles.
- The consensus with all facilitators and teachers at the end was that the program was successful in all regards and that we accomplished all we set out to accomplish.
- It is important to develop your own protocols and operating procedures and go through those with the school staff prior to the program. The school may additional requirements or there may be other things to consider and plan for—things that may not have been a factor pre-COVID-19. Contact us at the information below for examples of protocols we established.
We may have changed things even more IF we had been forced to run this program in January and be inside a building. There also may be other barriers as the school has some specific protocols and safety measures in place. Begin work with school staff well in advance of the program to make sure everyone is on the same page. One key thing to consider is the level of risk tolerance for each party. Examples of things to consider include:
- Additional group size requirements for specific spaces that may change your activities and scheduling (For example, do you need to establish a smaller group rotation? Could groups rotate between in class and experiential activities to limit group size in your facilitation space?)
- Additional screening protocols, especially for non-school staff (each school will be different)
- Activity restrictions based on specific in school protocols
Beyond the realities of COVID-19, keeping kids active and getting them outdoors when possible is critical for learning, health and growth. This does become more difficult as winter approaches, however, in many ways, it becomes more important to make the effort. Here is an article on the importance of getting youth outdoors—especially at this challenging time.
Contact us at the addresses below for more information on, COVID-19 programming protocols and standards, more information on the things discussed here, and for modifications for standard classroom based experiential learning activities. Visit our website for more information on activities that work well in a classroom. You can find that information here. We also have a document available on how to modify many of the activities in these documents to keep participants safer during COVID-19. Contact us for that.